The Future of HR: Architecting how work gets done

Artificial intelligence, or robotic process automation (RPA), may not seem like the business of human resources (HR). It also may feel very far away. But is it?

Automation now

  • The global socio-economic landscape is changing – we see economies shifting between a global platform to domestically oriented. In essence automation has allowed these shifts to occur by magnifying unit labor output. For today’s company to compete, it has to grasp how to integrate automation with a workforce that will be ever more skilled and with each worker becoming much more significant in delivering the output goal.
  • Reducing carbon footprint is a goal for many companies. Automation and the integration of machine and labor will be a key combination in fulfilling this objective.

How about closer to home: Did you use AI today? You did if you used a recommended Google Play list or searched for a recipe online. The opportunities to get work done in a new way are cropping up in all parts of our lives.

My focus today, though, is not on the transformation in our personal lives; rather it’s on the impact on HR where the pace of change is equally as rapid.

The future of HR

As my colleague, Ravin Jesuthasan, recently outlined in an article in Workspan, a new work ecosystem is emerging. The changes present exciting challenges for HR, and it’s imperative for HR executives to not only understand and manage them but also to anticipate what’s coming next.

Much of HR’s current role and focus is to hire, develop, lead, engage, reward and retain employees. But what happens when the business plans for and implements cognitive automation technologies that change 50% of the activities found in several jobs?

Or, have you begun to wonder what’s happening with top talent when the job posting is still unfilled, and candidates are requesting work flexibility closest to a free agent commitment?

HR is in the best place to evolve its role into managing how work gets done versus enabling the management of employees. HR leadership means being a proactive architect around less permanent combinations of work, worker and work experiences.

Take for example a retail company pursuing a digital strategy that creates a work ecosystem from

  • technology
  • product development
  • retail stores
  • marketing
HR is in the best place to evolve its role into managing how work gets done versus enabling the management of employees

All the team members have signed up for the year around the purpose of “creating an exciting digital experience for customers in the store.” The employees have “left” their permanent jobs as IT architect, product manager, store manager and marketing consultant in their respective functions.

In fact, as an HR professional you notice the IT architect, with a career level of an analyst, is actually doing the work of a manager (in terms of scope, impact, decision-making). You also notice that none of these current jobs (as captured in job descriptions, or in job postings during recruitment) reflect the key emerging skills being applied, such as digital design, managing paradoxes and co-creativity.

How do you update the durable and foundational HR programs (such as job architecture, talent management and rewards processes) with these emerging work requirements? How best to recognize the contributions being made by this team in this temporary work ecosystem?

New work frameworks

HR as architect means creating new frameworks to build upon. As the example highlights above, it means updating job architectures to work architectures, moving from job levelling to levelling jobs and work, and engaging and rewarding around the work. Yes, there are rampant advances in automation –coming to your business or your competitor’s. HR has a vital role in this fray, and the time to start is NOW!

Get started by:

  1. Identify jobs that are at a tipping point (either becoming obsolete or more advanced due to technology) and evaluate how work may be re-designed.
  2. For key growth areas of the business, brainstorm with the business the new and emerging skills. Start to curate these and bring them forward into talent acquisition strategies and sourcing, map onto development opportunities and work rotations.
  3. Define the new levels of work and impact, recognizing how work grows, the decision-making and relationship building required for work (refresh job architectures and levelling).

About Tracey Malcolm

Tracey Malcolm is the Global Future of Work Leader in the Human Capital & Benefits practice. She works with l…
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